Carly Simon doesn't play out much. She told the crowd at Constitution Hall on Tuesday that she can't remember performing in Washington since an early '70s gig at the teensy but legendary Georgetown club, the Cellar Door.
A bad case of stage fright supposedly kept her off the road all these years. But Simon appeared to be the opposite of frightened while hamming things up for 90 minutes. For most of the show, she was having more fun than her fans, though it's unclear whether the odd aura of malaise inside the hall was because of the stormy weather outside or Simon's set list.
Like so many pop stars of the '70s, Simon recently released a disc of pop standards. Backed by an 11-piece band with four backup singers (including children Ben and Sally Taylor), she opened with a lot of other people's golden oldies, including "The More I See You," "Moonlight Serenade" and "I Only Have Eyes for You," all sung competently in her still-fabulous voice. While crooning the last, which was a smash single in 1959 for Baltimore doo-woppers the Flamingos, Simon stared adoringly at Orrin Hatch, the senator from Utah who was sitting on the aisle near the stage. Later in the show, Simon, a longtime advocate for lefty causes, introduced Hatch as "King of the Hill," and even performed a tune the very conservative lawmaker had written called "Are You Lonely Here With Me?" (The song seemed too countrified for Simon's consciously urbane audience.)
Simon eventually got around to the songs local fans had been wai-ay-ay-ting to hear her sing for three decades. "Anticipation" provided the night's feel-good and melodic high points. The energy level soared during "Mockingbird," a 1974 hit for Simon and ex-husband James Taylor, which was rendered as a "Hey Jude"-like extended singalong, with Ben Taylor doing a wonderful imitation of his pop.
Many of her biggest tunes now come off as quaint period pieces. The daughter of privilege -- her dad was the Simon in Simon & Schuster -- got famous by singing sincerely about what she knew best: the travails of the filthy rich. These days, it's hard to care if the woebegone narrator of "You're So Vain" ever finds love amid the yachts, Learjets and thoroughbred horses referenced in the tune. Simon has never publicly disclosed what well-heeled louse she wrote the song about -- Mick Jagger? Warren Beatty? -- and, what with Deep Throat now outed, this remains one of the last great mysteries from the 1970s. But, as even hoi polloi in the audience would attest, it also remains a wonderful pop song.